Previous SectionIndexHome Page

3 Dec 2003 : Column 508

Points of Order

12.31 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice on a matter relating to early-day motions and the listing of names. What advice would you give to a Member who finds that her name is listed on an early-day motion, even though she never put down her name, and that a subsequent correction of the record has been interpreted as a withdrawal of her name, even though no such thing occurred? My name was never put down and I did not withdraw it—what happened was a mistake.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. I understand that a mistake was made in the Table Office, and that it has apologised to the hon. Lady for any embarrassment that this may have caused. I add that she was right to raise the matter on a point of order, and that it is therefore well and truly on the record.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): On a point of order, of which I have given you notice, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that today is the exact anniversary of Second Reading of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill. During the intervening year, the Government took the unprecedented step of recommitting it to a second Standing Committee. In the course of those two Committees, proceedings were timetabled to such an extent that large chunks of the original Bill remain undiscussed. Hardly was the ink dry on the second Standing Committee proceedings when the Government announced that they would introduce yet another new policy on Report. That was more than a month ago, yet we did not see the amendments and new clauses that give effect to that policy until this morning.

You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that all Back Benchers have to table amendments and new clauses by close of play tomorrow; otherwise, they will be starred and will not be debated on Report on Monday. This is a manipulation of parliamentary procedures. What can you do to ensure that Members have a greater opportunity to react to Government amendments, and have due time for consideration and to table their own amendments?

Mr. Speaker: I understand that the House will consider this Bill on Monday and Tuesday of next week. The hon. Gentleman has two clear days in which to table his amendments, and he may wish to seek further advice from the Public Bill Office.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Prime Minister's questions, the Prime Minister said that he was perfectly happy for 40 different ways of funding university education to be published. Could the House authorities assist the Government in publishing that material with great speed, so that it may form part of our discussions in the forthcoming debate?

Mr. Speaker: The House authorities are busy enough looking after their own affairs without taking up the Prime Minister's affairs. The hon. Gentleman should take the matter up directly with the Prime Minister.

3 Dec 2003 : Column 509

Orders of the Day

Debate on the Address

[Fifth Day]

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [26 November],

Question again proposed.

Public Services, Health and Education

Mr. Speaker: I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

12.35 pm

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): I beg to move, as an Amendment to the Address, at the end of the Question to add:—

I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests.

Our great public services, and in particular education and health, feature prominently in this year's Queen's Speech, and they remain at the heart of the concerns of every family in Britain. Only a Prime Minister who is losing touch with reality would need a great conversation to discover the dismay of millions of people at the fact that a Government who promised so much improvement to our schools and hospitals have in the end delivered so little.

Despite spending record sums, taking more in tax than ever before, and despite the commitment and hard work of thousands of professional staff to whom I gladly pay tribute, the Government are still letting people down. They are letting children down when far too many 11-year-olds leave our schools unable properly to read, count or write. In some schools, far too many children fail to pass a single GCSE. Despite endless Government initiatives, thousands of children truant

3 Dec 2003 : Column 510

every day. The Government are also letting teachers down by failing to control violence in the classroom: a teacher is attacked every seven minutes of the school day. They are letting young people down because more and more of them are not in education, employment or training. Less than half as many Britons as Germans reach intermediate skill levels. It is a dismal record for a Government who have been in charge for almost seven years and who boasted in advance that their priorities would be "education, education, education".

The Government are also letting patients down with hospitals cancelling more than a thousand operations every week less than 24 hours before the patients are due to go into theatre. It is no wonder that the number of people forced to pay for operations out of their own pockets has increased threefold since 1997. Is that what the Prime Minister had in mind when he claimed that there were 24 hours in which to save the NHS?

I readily acknowledge that much that goes on in our education and health services is good—[Interruption.] Much of it is good, but for a country claiming to have the fourth largest economy in the world, far too many services remain unacceptably bad.

Let us start this afternoon with the Government's flagship Bill on top-up fees.

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is kind to say that some good things are going on in the public services. Let me tell him that when I was a teacher under a Tory Government, what we had was cuts, cuts, cuts. That is his party's reputation, and that is what would happen if the Conservatives ever got into power again.

Mr. Yeo: If the hon. Gentleman can contain himself for a while, he will discover that the Conservative party has plenty of good ideas to improve the education system—and, crucially, to stop the process of Ministers telling teachers what to do every school day.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): My hon. Friend may be interested to know that I have received letters from head teachers in my constituency and throughout Leicestershire, who almost certainly voted Labour in the last election, specifically saying—

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Show us the letters.

Mr. Robathan: I will show the hon. Gentleman the letters if he wants. The head teachers ask me whether the current funding settlement is what the Government mean by "education, education, education" when teachers are being sacked and classrooms are empty as a result.

Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point and his experience is reflected in that of many of my hon. Friends.

To return to top-up fees, has there ever been a Queen's Speech in which the very first Bill to be mentioned was not a Bill that honoured an election pledge but one that specifically dishonoured such a pledge? What did the Secretary of State for Education

3 Dec 2003 : Column 511

and Skills think when he read the Labour party manifesto on which he campaigned two years ago? That manifesto said:

It did not say, "We are not going to introduce them until after the next election." It did not say, "We are about to reverse the policy." It said:

Two years later, we discover that in fact the Labour Government have exactly the opposite intention.

Is the Secretary of State proud that the first Bill he will attempt to put on the statute book in his current job breaks the clear promise that he made to his voters two years ago? Can we be surprised that politics and politicians are held in low regard when Ministers behave with such breathtaking cynicism?

Next Section

IndexHome Page